Coming April 14, 2020. Available for pre-order on Amazon now.
The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence
What if a longtime classroom teacher were able to share with the brand-new parents of her potentially future students the single most important thing they can do to foster their parent-child bond and their child’s future learning potential? THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence is Kim Jocelyn Dickson’s answer to that question. Nearly thirty years teaching hundreds of elementary school-aged children has convinced her that the simple act of reading aloud from birth has a far-reaching impact on our children, as well as the culture at large, that few of us fully understand and that our recent, nearly universal saturation in technology has further clouded its importance.
What Every Parent Needs to Know
THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX is the concise, accessible gift book that belongs in the hands of every new and expectant parent. In it, Kim explains that every child begins kindergarten with a lunchbox in one hand and an Invisible Toolbox in the other. Some children arrive with empty toolboxes and some arrive with toolboxes overflowing. For those with full toolboxes, the future is brighter; these children are much more likely to thrive in school and beyond. Children who enter school with empty toolboxes are destined to struggle. Their shortfall will be a herculean challenge to bridge, negatively affecting their motivation and ability to learn. According to The Children’s Reading Foundation, 75% of children who begin school behind never catch up.
Priceless Tools for Kids and Parents
In THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX, parents will learn about the ten priceless tools that will fill their child’s toolbox when they read aloud to their child from birth; and they’ll also learn about the tools they can give themselves to foster these gifts in their children. Practical tips for how and what to read aloud to children through their developmental stages, along with Do’s and Don’ts and recommended resources, round out all the practical tools a parent will need to prepare their child for kindergarten and beyond.
Research and Experience-Based
With THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX, Kim has done her homework, weaving her practical anecdotal experience as an educator and parent into the hard research of recent findings in neuroscience. She not only reminds us that the first years of life are critical in the formation and receptivity of the primary predictor of success in school—language skills—and that infants begin learning immediately at birth, or even before, but also teaches and inspires us to build our own toolboxes so that we can help our children build theirs.
The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence is due out April 2020 from Mango Media.
“..what’s happening in St. Louis could be a blueprint for libraries and the medical community everywhere.”
by Kim Jocelyn Dickson
As a former third grade teacher, I’d often wished I could roll back time and meet the parents of my struggling readers at the door of their maternity hospital with a stack of picture books. There was nothing sadder to me than an eight year old that had missed out on being read to from the very start.
After years of teaching and observing students, it became clear to me that children who struggled in school lacked the necessary tools that come from being read to that their successful peers possessed. Brain science tells us that the first three years of life are critical in building the neural pathways that are the infrastructure for all future intellectual and emotional growth. In order for a child’s brain to make these connections, parents need to speak, read to, and sing with their babies.
According to the results of the 2017 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress—otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card), which tests a cross-section of fourth and eighth graders from public and private schools every two years, nearly two-thirds of fourth and eighth grade students do not read proficiently. That the United States is suffering a crisis of literacy is beyond dispute, but the good news is that our awareness of the problem is growing and people and organizations are finding creative ways to address it.
When I recently learned that the thing I’d wished for was actually happening in my former hometown, St. Louis, Missouri, through a program called Born to Read, I was intrigued and had to learn more. A few emails and a phone call later with Library Director Kristen Sorth, and I was convinced that what’s happening in St. Louis could be a blueprint for libraries and the medical community everywhere.
In 2015 Ms. Sorth and her team of librarians and volunteers from the St. Louis County Library system, along with the support of a handful of local maternity hospitals, began reaching out to new parents with a gift that sends the message that babies and books belong together. Just two years later every single maternity hospital and clinic in St. Louis County were on board.
What inspired you to bring Born to Read to St. Louis County?
We brought this program to St. Louis County to help give families a head start. Studies show that when children start behind, they stay behind. The goal of Born to Read is to foster a love of reading starting at birth and to emphasize the importance of reading to children of even the youngest age.
That your program has grown to include every maternity hospital and clinic in St. Louis County—11 in all—since you began in 2015 is a tribute to your success. What, exactly, do the parents of each newborn in St. Louis County receive from the library?
Each gift bag includes a board book, baby’s first library card, early literacy information, a baseball Cardinals’ beanie, and a voucher for two Cardinals’ tickets, a toothbrush, and another board book.
What do you hope each new parent gains from this gift?
We developed the Born to Read program to reach families at the earliest possible moment. We want to convey the importance of reading and to make it easy for parents to introduce books into their daily routine.
Was gaining the support of the medical community challenging in any way? Is their support at all difficult to maintain?
The hospitals think it’s a wonderful program. The nurses love giving the bags to the families and encouraging them to read to their children. They know the materials in the bags are purposeful, and they hear great feedback from the families. Ensuring that the hospitals are stocked with enough bags so they never run out can sometimes be a challenge since the nurses and hospital staff are incredibly busy and can’t always let us know right away when they are low. Our weekly visits help to keep them stocked.
Once the initial gift is given, do you follow up with parents later on?
Parents and babies are invited to the library for a first birthday celebration. The Born to Read parties include story time, sensory play with bubbles and, of course, cake. Parents are also given another free book to take home. These parties are a great first introduction to parents, showing them the variety of resources available at the library.
We also stay in touch with parents via a monthly Early Literacy e–Newsletter, which provides early literacy tips, library event information, and other library resources.
Is Born to Read having an impact on the community? If so, how?
Every child born in St. Louis County now receives a library card, thanks to the Born to Read program. We’re helping create a new generation of readers. To date, we’ve distributed almost 40,000 bags.
With the involvement of every area hospital and clinic you must need a lot of help. How do you accomplish the creation and distribution of all those gift bags?
Our Youth Services staff has done a fabulous job of maintaining the program. Every 6-8 weeks they have a Born to Read work day, where staff form an assembly line to stuff bags and package them for delivery. Each Friday we have a dedicated staff member who delivers bags to area hospitals and clinics. The program has been very popular among local volunteer groups as well. We have corporate and business groups that help stuff bags each month.
How is Born to Read funded?
The St. Louis County Library Foundation helps raise funds for the program. We also have strong corporate support–-the St. Louis Cardinals and Delta Dental have been key supporters of the Born to Read program.
What is the program’s biggest success?
Born to Read has provided a unique opportunity for the Library to reach new parents at the very beginning. Before they even leave the hospital, parents learn about the importance of reading to their baby. We make it easy for them to utilize library resources by providing them with a library card, and the book voucher gives them an incentive for visiting their local branch.
Does the St. Louis County Library provide any other means of educating new parents about the importance of reading to their child from birth?
St. Louis County Library has a variety of early literacy resources for families at every stage of development. Born to Read is the entry point for many families; after that they can sign up for the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten or attend weekly story time at a nearby branch. Later we offer Kindergarten Prep workshops and resources such as FLIP Kits (Family Literacy Involvement Program) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) programming.
With the enormous success you’ve experienced in linking society’s primary stronghold of literacy—the library—with the medical community in order to reach new parents with this crucial message, do you expect to eventually see other communities follow your lead?
The Born to Read program has already been duplicated by St. Louis Public Library. Together, we’re reaching families and promoting early literacy across the St. Louis region.
If you live in the St. Louis area and would like to become a volunteer with the Born to Read program, please contact the Youth Services Department at 314-994-3300.
Author’s note: Born to Read is an American Library Association (ALA) trademarked program that encourages the connection between libraries and health providers. The St. Louis County Library’s program is exceptional in both its implementation and scope.
As much as we’d like to believe that children arrive at school on the first day of kindergarten with comparable reservoirs of potential, the sad reality is this simply isn’t true. From the very beginning of their school lives, the playing field is not even. Children arrive in wide-ranging states of readiness to learn, predetermined by their early language experiences.
Watch this powerful graphic illustration of the impact of the first five years on a child’s future learning trajectory from The Children’s Reading Foundation:
The fact is, children who have been read to regularly come equipped with the critical tools they need for the world of school. Children who lack this experience enter school already behind and, as the video reveals, they rarely catch up.
By reading to our children from birth on, we can build a foundation of literacy skills that will not only enable them to enter kindergarten on day one with joy and confidence, but carry them successfully far into the future.
Think reading affects more than just the language processing parts of the brain? You bet it does.
Fifteen-month old Piper demonstrates what brain scientists have only recently proven to be true. When we read we experience the story as if it’s actually happening to us.
According to Annie Murphy Paul, author of Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, “The brain…does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.” (“Your Brain on Fiction,” New York Times, March 18, 2012)
When a parent reads stories to a child, the child is not just learning about the world of the story, she is experiencing the world of the story. As we can see from Piper’s reaction, reading is a full-body sensory phenomenon, and it makes her very happy. Her mom and dad are teaching her an invaluable life lesson that will pay huge dividends in her future: reading is a pleasurable, rewarding activity.
It’s clear that there are many other things about books that Piper has already figured out (be sure to check out “What’s in Your Child’s Invisible Toolbox?” parts I, II, and III), but the understanding that reading is fun is the most critical lesson of all and the hardest to impart later on.
Learning why we read begins right here, in infancy, in the arms—or legs—of a loving parent.
Recipe for fostering community and connection through books: Gather 2 or more kids. Add their moms and a splash of wine. Stir with the classics. Yields: Comfort, belonging, and the joy of shared stories. (Caution: May inspire imaginative play.)
[The following is reprinted from the Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2017; by Tess Taylor and Edan Lepucki]
“When the world felt hard–as it has this fall and winter–turning to a children’s book was a singular opportunity to settle down, unplug the phone and the news, light the light and be together.”
The plan was simple: We would start a book club for our 5-year-old sons. Bennett and Bean had just started kindergarten and were crazy for stories. They couldn’t read chapter books on their own but they took pleasure in listening, imagining the story playing out. Besides, we, their mothers, had basically been waiting to read big books to our kids from the moment they were born.
And, like that, Bennett and Bean’s book club was born. We figured we could handle a book a month, and we dug out the ones we remembered loving as kids: “The Phantom Tollbooth,” “Pippi Longstocking” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Our meetings would be whatever the boys made them, but the book club would be for us too.
All fall, we read to the boys. That wasn’t unusual, but it felt different because we were doing it with another family across town — picking up the same book, laughing at the same jokes, falling in love with the same characters.
Bean and Bennett had never read on deadline before, and we all became more disciplined about the reading hour. Sometimes it was the best part of the day. When the world felt hard — as it has this fall and winter — turning to a children’s book was a singular opportunity to settle down, unplug the phone and the news, light the light and be together.
“What could be a greater gift to pass on to our children? Sharing stories, weaving a small community together.”
The boys loved it. After all, who doesn’t want to belong to a club? We didn’t hold our kids to teacherly standards. The meetings often consisted of talking about books for all of 10 minutes before we poured ourselves glasses of wine and let the kids run in circles around the redwood tree in Tess’ backyard.
Our picks weren’t perfect. “The Phantom Tollbooth” was too complex for 5-year-olds. Its puns and math sailed over their heads. Bean thought it a bit dull; Bennett wished for whales. “Pippi Longstocking” was full of adventure, but we moms found the way she described her travels around the world imperialist and dated. Bennett said that, like Pippi, he wanted to live alone. Bean wondered if he could get his own pet monkey. Each meeting ended with both boys asking why the party had to end.
And us mothers? From the beginning, we assumed we would enjoy ourselves, but even we were surprised by how nourished we felt. The book club reminded us of the deep pleasure of losing oneself in a rich story. The reading hour was an antidote and balm for adult distractions, fears and responsibilities. However chaotic and cruel the world seemed, setting aside time to read classic books with our children, letting our imaginations take flight, made the universe seem legible again.
What could be a greater gift to pass on to our children? Sharing stories, weaving a small community together. The days got shorter and we curled into the reading light.
Ultimately, it was “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” that offered what we all wanted most: magic. The sentences were clear, easy to read aloud, spellbinding. There were the children escaping the air raids of World War II, brought to a house in the country. And like a house within the house, there was the wardrobe, and inside it a land where long winter had fallen, and people and animals were being kidnapped.
Yet C.S. Lewis’ book also contained bravery, camaraderie, light. And the assurance that even in the most ominous times, it is possible to fight the darkness. The White Witch might seem all powerful, but the children were working to set the long winter right. How lovely the writing was, we exclaimed. How urgent the book felt, to us, in 2016.
That afternoon, Tess hung extra coats in a closet and Bennett and Bean went in and came out ready to fight the witch. They waged a great battle in the backyard, armed with wrapping-paper tubes. Bean wore a lion mask and roared and roared. Bennett put on a cardboard crown. Everyone ate Turkish delight. Everyone got powdered sugar on their noses. We ducked together into the magic wardrobe and emerged as new avengers, ready to battle for the light.
[Tess Taylor’s collection “Work & Days” was named one of 2016’s best books of poetry by the New York Times. Novelist Edan Lepucki’s latest book, “Woman No. 17,” will be published in May.]
The benefits a child gains from being read aloud to are many, and they contribute directly to success in school.
A child who has been read to regularly from birth arrives on day one of kindergarten with an invisible toolbox overflowing with the pre-literacy skills that are the foundation for all learning. They include not only the number one predictor of school success— a rich vocabulary—but many other essential understandings. Check out Parts I and II and then add these to the list:
They gain the ‘background of experiences’ necessary for understanding what they read in school.
Stories expand the boundaries of a child’s world in the best possible way. The greater the exposure to stories and ideas from outside their immediate experience, the better children are able to understand what they read in school. The reading a child eventually does in school is filled with countless references that will fall outside her natural orbit, and her degree of familiarity with them will determine her ability to understand what she reads.
They absorb how stories work on an unconscious level.
Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is a protagonist, a problem, a struggle, and a resolution. These are understandings that a young child will generally not consciously express, but they will understand intuitively that this is what constitutes a story. This unconscious familiarity will become very apparent as a child moves into writing in school.
They possess the tools to become effective writers.
Children who have been read to not only gain a greater vocabulary for expressing themselves in writing, they develop an innate grasp of how sentences are formed and have an easier time constructing them. Just as they have greater expressive fluency orally, their writing is also more fluent than that of their non-reading peers. Through hearing many stories read aloud from a young age, they have absorbed the structural rhythm that stories possess. They will draw on this to write their own more easily than their peers who have not been immersed in stories.
The simple act of sharing a daily read-aloud with a child will fill his invisible toolbox to overflowing with a rich vocabulary, an inherent understanding of the pleasure of books, knowledge of the way books and stories function, an ability to attend to what is important, and familiarity with expressive reading and the rhythm of language. These are the essential tools of literacy that are the foundation for all learning in school.
Parenting in the digital age can be challenging and confusing. This week the American Academy of Pediatrics–informed by dozens of studies on screen time and its effect on the emotional and physical health of children–released new guidelines for parents. Here is some of their advice:
- Children under the age of 2 should avoid all digital media use except for video chatting via apps like Skype and Facetime.
- If you must introduce digital media to toddlers between the ages of 18 and 24 months, choose high-quality programming and sit with your child. Solo viewing should be avoided.
- Children ages 2 to 5 years should have no more than one hour of screen use a day. Be sure to select high-quality programming and watch it with your children.
- Keep bedrooms, mealtimes and parent-child playtime free of screens. (Parents, that goes for you too: Set your phone on “Do not disturb.”)
- If you have children between the ages of 5 and 18, place consistent limits on their hours per day of media use, as well as the types of media they use.
- Discourage the use of entertainment media while doing homework.
- Children of all ages should avoid exposure to devices and screens for one hour before bedtime.
- Keep smartphones, TVs and other devices out of the bedroom.
- Communicate the family’s media guidelines to grandparents, babysitters and other caregivers so screen rules are followed consistently.
- Have an ongoing conversation with older children about online citizenship and safety. This includes treating people with respect online; saying no to cyberbullying and sexting; and avoiding communications that can compromise personal privacy and safety.
To help your family develop a plan that is right for you, visit www.HealthyChildren.org/MediaUseplan.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics and Los Angeles Times
Every child walks through the doorway of kindergarten with a lunchbox in one hand and an invisible toolbox in the other. As we learned in “What’s in Your Child’s Invisible Toolbox?”, children who have been read to regularly in the early years enter school with an invisible toolbox brimming with rich vocabulary. Through hearing stories read aloud, children pick up on and begin to understand the rare words that don’t crop up in ordinary conversation. These words become the foundation that enables a child to comprehend what is taught in school. In fact, research tells us a child’s vocabulary is the number one predictor of school success.
A strong vocabulary is not the only gift in the invisible toolbox of the child who has been read to. There are several tools, or, what educators call “pre-literacy skills,” that make a significant difference in a child’s ability to appreciate and learn from what the world of school offers. A child who has been read to regularly will arrive at school having already internalized these attributes:
They are attracted to books.
Young children who have been read to will make a bee-line for an attractive display of books in a classroom. They will be curious and eager to explore because they already understand that there is something in it for them.
They attend to what is important.
Reading aloud to a child teaches them to listen, pay attention, and focus visually and auditorily. It is easier for them to shut out distractions once they begin school because they are habituated to doing so.
They understand the nuts and bolts of how books function.
We begin at the front and read to the back. We start at the top of the page and read to the bottom. We read the words from right to left. Pictures give us clues to what is happening in the story. Children may even begin to intuit that symbols on the page stand for sounds that become words.
They will become expressive readers.
If a child has been read to regularly by an expressive, engaged adult, he or she will read aloud in the same way because it’s what they know.
You may be thinking, “But can’t all these things be taught in school?” The answer is yes, but the reality is it will be more difficult for the child. The optimum place to learn all of the above is on the lap of a loving parent.
There are many more items in the invisible toolbox, so watch for them in Part III.
When I was growing up every kid I knew had a library card. It was standard issue for a child of my generation, used once a month when the bookmobile came to school and bi-weekly during the summer when our mothers took us to the library to pick out a stack that would last us—maybe—for two weeks.
Entering the library or the bookmobile as a child was like embarking on a treasure hunt. One never knew what new discovery might lie around the corner. I loved the sense that there was a seemingly endless supply of books for me to browse through and that any number of them—within reason of course—could come home with me if I so chose. If one of them turned out not to be my cup of tea, no problem, it simply went onto the return stack that would go back to the library. More often than not, the books I hauled home turned out to be a delightful haven for me in quiet moments.
Not long ago, I visited friends in a tiny eastern seaside town where they spend their vacations. Jack, who had grown up summering there, was especially eager for me to see the town’s charming stone library that had remained nearly unchanged for over one hundred years. He led me into the children’s section with as much gravitas as if he were leading me into King Tut’s tomb to see the Egyptian king’s riches. We came to the “B” shelf, and there he lifted one of Frank Baum’s original, much worn, hardcover copies of one of the Oz books. He had checked them all out many times as a child, and here they remained decades later. I moved farther down the stack to the “L’s,” curious to see whether one of my favorite series, Betsy-Tacy, had also survived. I was thrilled to see that it had, but even more elated when I discovered all the original Lois Lenski books shelved above them. I hadn’t seen these books, which I’d adored through grade school, in decades. It was like meeting old, beloved friends.
Books that we grow up with and love can come from any source, of course, but there is a special value in teaching our children to use the local library. The reasons for introducing our children to the library, helping them get their own library cards, and creating a habit of use are twofold and both have to do with empowering them.
First, using the library encourages children to regularly and frequently make their own reading choices. When books are purchased children make a greater commitment, which often necessitates adult involvement in the decision making process. This is not a bad thing–I don’t at all discourage buying books— it’s just limiting. Unlike a bookstore or online shopping, browsing and sampling are not restrictive. The world of books is a child’s oyster in a library.
Second, it’s empowering for a child to have a library card of their own as it implies both responsibility and privilege. Parents also ought to have and use their own cards. Making regular trips to the library in which both parent and child check out their own books–and shared books too for read-aloud time–communicates a powerful message to a child about the value, pleasure, and importance of reading.
As a teacher, I’ve seen the number of students who have library cards and use their local library rapidly dwindle in recent years. Many of them use only the school library or buy their books online. While both of these venues are fine, they are missing out on the uniqueness of what libraries have to offer–limitless browsing, freedom of choice, and the frequent reminder of the value of reading that comes when they visit regularly with a parent and exercise this privilege with their very own library card.